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MLA Full: "Disability and Sex." YouTube, uploaded by Sexplanations, 19 April 2017,
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April is Autism Acceptance Month, and as great a time as ever to talk about the misconceptions society perpetuates about people with disabilities and their sexualities. This topic is very dear to my heart and something I've wanted to talk about for a long time. I hope that my efforts here show how much this matters to me and that I continue to demonstrate my values of diversity and accessibility in more and more videos.

I recommend learning more on the topic of having disabilities from the following very talented YouTubers:

Here are some online resources on the topic, if you’re curious:
Dr. Lindsey Doe: I'm Dr. Lindsey Doe, and this is Sexplanations

-- Intro Cut Scene --

I'd like to think that everything we've made on Sexplanations is more inclusive, that we're considerate of diverse upbringings, educational backgrounds, orientations, identities, and abilities. But sometimes it's not enough to be inclusive. Sometimes we also need to directly challenge the messages that aren't.

According to the World Health Organization 1 in 7 people experience disabilities. For example, physical disabilities - like lack of mobility; vision loss and blindness; hearing loss and deafness; learning disabilities like dyslexia; as well as developmental disabilities; psychological ones, and chronic illnesses.

There are these false ideas, myths even,  that people with experiences like these aren't sexual (or shouldn't be) and that isn't inclusive or true!

The first time I was confronted with this, I was serving as an editor for a sex education website, and a teen girl had written in something like:

"My older brother has developmental disabilities. One morning I heard my mother in his room. She was masturbating him. She said that my brother wakes up every morning with an erection and has been trying to get rid of it by whacking his penis on his bed posts. She's talked to people in her support group. They recommended restraining him, but she can't bring herself to do that, so every morning, as a part of his personal care routine, she masturbated him."

When I read this, I'm sure I had confused feelings. Isn't that incest? Is that legal? Can he even consent to this? What about a personal aid doing it instead? Would a personal aid do that? Is that something personal aids do?

Then my thoughts shifted to "maybe this mother is just surprisingly sex-positive. What if all caregivers understood sexual health care like she does?

Until her post, it hadn't even crossed my mind that people living with disabilities would have unmet sexual needs, or have trouble having them met. And that's because I was taught all sorts of ideas from society, starting with the idea

Myth 1: People with Disabilities Aren't Sexual

Don't need sex, shouldn't bother with it, wouldn't even know what to do if it happened. While there are people with disabilities who identify as asexual; there are many others who fantasize, desire human touch and intimacy. They go through puberty, want to date and have sex. 

Take for example a couple I worked with early on in my private practice. Both paralyzed, both used chairs, and both wanted to have sex on their wedding night. Recognizing their sexual needs, we planned for and facilitated this as a team. 

Myth 2: If people with disabilities are sexual then they're cisgender heterosexuals into strictly vanilla sex.

For some reason we get it into our heads that having a disability is the extent of a person's diversity. Like a person can't have a prosthesis and a fetish. Or a wheelchair and a gender transition.

I want you to take a moment and put into your head some images that challenge this: like a blind dominatrix, a polyamorous stutterer, and a person with cerebral palsy really into anal sex. People with disabilities are bi, pan, demi, poly, homo, kinky, queer and questioning!

An incredible documentary called "Best and Most Beautiful Things" tells the story of a woman with autism navigating her interest in BDSM. She talks about bondage restraints, play parties, dating, and how meaningful having a sense of belonging to the kink community is to her well-being.

Myth 3: If we don't talk about sex, they won't want it

When has this worked for anyone? NEVER! And yet, some people with disabilities are denied sex education entirely on the basis of this claim. They're not taught about their bodies or their feelings; or good touch, bad touch; or given language to express their curiosities.

Research shows that people with disabilities are at a significantly higher risk for sexual victimization than the general population. Among people with developmental disabilities, the rates are as high as 83% of females and 32% of males. People in these communities are seen as vulnerable. They're often isolated and easily kept from accessing helpful resources like the police. 

It is not their fault that the abuse happens, but as the Committee on Children With Disabilities once wrote "the best protection from abuse is effective education of the children about sex and their right to assert themselves in refusing sexual advances."

I've included the full paper in the description if you'd like to read more on how to provide sex education to people with disabilities.

Myth 4: They should focus on the disability rather than sex

Like the line of thinking that "if you can't walk around without crutches, if you can't breathe without a respirator, then what are you doing thinking about sex?! Don't worry about finding romance, you've got a chronic illness to fret about.

Sure, it's important to address disabilities, but that doesn't mean that there aren't also ways to be sexual. The Fault in Our Stars is all about this. Cancer survivors falling in love and having sex. 

"i don't believe that everybody gets to keep their eyes or not get sick or whatever, but everybody should have true love, and it should last as least as long as your life does."

Sex, love, relationships, they have a way of making people feel like they're part of humankind. That, and sex is known to:

  • boost the immune system
  • decrease cancer risk
  • diminish depression
  • elevate mood
  • energize
  • free inhibitions
  • postpone sleep
  • improve sleep
  • reduce stress
  • relieve pain
  • speed up healing, and
  • elicit pleasure

I say totally focus on sex!

Myth 5: It won't even work

What is "it?" The penis? The sex? The sensations? Sex isn't limited to one's genitals. You don't have to have an erection or penetration, or orgasm, or contact for that matter, to be sexual and experience intimacy that works for you.

There's phone sex, cyber sex, hands, toys, mouths. There are lots of ways to play. That being said, there are four notes worth mentioning.

  1. Depending on the location of the spinal cord injury, some people may not be able to feel themselves get hard or wet, but physiologically, their bodies still do.

  2. There are medical grade vibrators that can help take care of this, if other kinds of stimulation aren't able to. 

  3. Some people can move the site of their orgasms to parts of their body where they do have sensation, like the neck for example.

  4. Professional sex surrogates give hands-on help to people with disabilities, so they can have the sex that works for them.

Myth 6: Sex with disabilities is such a hassle

You might be thinking "what kind of person is going to hook up with someone who needs assistance or has limits on what they can and can't do?" All kinds of people! Good people. Open-minded people. People who recognize that we all have our limits, just some are more visible than others.

They don't view sex with disabilities as a hassle - they get that sex with disabilities can be even better than sex without them. Because of a push for new positions, open communication, creativity, and an expanded meaning of what intimacy can look like.

That being said, some people find it important to be wary of people who seek out partners with disabilities, for the disability - people who call themselves "devotees." As Emily Yates put it, "i think there's a problem when you fetishize something, that it can hamper you from having feelings for the full person."

Myth 7: People with disabilities have nothing to teach people without disabilities on the topic of sexuality.

Not true! This book, The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability is written in part by Fran Odette, a person with a mobility disability. I think everyone should read or listen to it because of its thoughtfulness  and comprehensive lessons on sex. It's brilliant as a sex book - for everyone! 

Also, there are all of these YouTubers with disabilities to learn from. Whatever you do, don't maintain myths. Stay Curious.

This episode was brought to you by our partners on People like you who fund our efforts to make sex education more accessible to everyone. I asked them which topic they wanted me to cover this month, and sex and disabilities came in at number 1. Thank you, Sexplanauts! It's one of my favorite topics and I'm grateful for the opportunity to talk about it.